Ducks have different view on first two games

Wednesday, June 4th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- History is being rewritten by the resurgent Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

A week ago when they arrived in New Jersey for the Stanley Cup finals, they were wrapping up a 10-day layoff. Asked whether that would make them rusty, they all agreed that it wouldn't.

Now they're not so sure it didn't.

"There is absolutely no question about that," coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday night. "I'm not trying to make an excuse; it's reality."

When the Ducks dropped Game 1 by a 3-0 score to the Devils, Anaheim wouldn't give in to that idea. They said a lack of "greasy hockey," not a buildup of rust, was to blame.

Another 3-0 pounding put the Ducks in a 2-0 hole that few thought they could climb out of. Maybe they'd score a goal on Martin Brodeur, maybe even steal a game at home. If they did manage to get the series back on the East Coast, it would just be a formality. The Devils were certain to wrap up their third title in nine years.

Instead, overtime was provided at the Pond -- not once but twice. Each time the Ducks were the ones celebrating a sudden-death finish. So the series is back in New Jersey with another trip to Anaheim guaranteed for Game 6.

The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2. It is now a best-of-three with the next game Thursday night. Whoever wins that one will be able to win the Cup in California on Saturday.

"I think we are playing better," center Adam Oates said. "The layoff didn't affect us in terms of conditioning but timing. We didn't play our best games. We expect to play better that way."

A split of the next two games brings the series back to New Jersey for a deciding Game 7 next Monday. For the first time, there will be more than one day off between games.

"The good thing about playing every other day is you don't have too much time to think about it," Oates said. "I reflected more after the last series because we had (10) days. Right now it feels great to be here."

When the Ducks first arrived in New Jersey a week ago, they came in as the team on an incredible roll with a goalie who looked invincible. Whether it was rust, jitters, inexperience, or inferior talent, the Ducks didn't come close to measuring up to the experienced Devils.

"I thought we were confident coming here the first time, we just weren't prepared not to skate," Babcock said.

But the Pond provided a safe haven, and -- more importantly -- extra time on the game clock for the Ducks to work their magic.

All the Ducks needed was to get to overtime, because that's where they've come to life. Jean-Sebastien Giguere did his best work once the period numbers were 4, 5 and 6 instead of 1, 2, or 3.

Of the 27 goals Giguere has allowed, none were in overtime. He and the Ducks are 7-0 when play reaches sudden death, and the goalie set a shutout streak of 168 minutes, 27 seconds -- which is still going.

"Our plan is to win it on the first shift," Babcock said. "If it takes overtime, so what."

Anaheim has won 14 games in these playoffs. The winning goals in 10 of those victories were scored in overtime or the final five minutes of the third period. That includes Ruslan Salei's goal that won Game 3.

The Ducks have matched Montreal's record of 12 one-goal playoff wins in 1993. Anaheim is 12-1 in one-goal games.

And now one goal is what they seek in Continental Airlines Arena. One goal was all that was needed to tie the series in Game 4, but that was more than the Ducks got in the opening two losses.

Giguere can only stop pucks. He did, however, put the heat on himself and his teammates before Game 3 by challenging the club to play with more emotion. He proclaimed that the Ducks weren't a fluke and needed to play their game.

"There's nothing I said that wasn't truth," Giguere said. "I was speaking about myself. I was speaking about my teammates."

And they got the message.

"He's a confident guy to put pressure on himself," Oates said. "If you put pressure on others you've got to be ready to take it on yourself."